A Bavarian restaurant sign hangs over us as we sit beside Ruta 5. A smog of fuel saturates our senses and whilst pondering about the Germans influence on southern Chile, an elderly man briskly passes by our feet, on a horse, on the hard shoulder of a busy motorway. I couldn’t help notice he was riding without a number plate, or a tax disk. Law breaker!
And so is Simon. Whilst holding our heads up high and our thumbs out wide, exasperated at the dilemma of stopping fast moving cars, I notice a car coming hurtling towards us. In Reverse. The driver had driven about 100 meters past us, a switch flicked inside his mind and he chooses to reverse back towards us via the hard shoulder. Cool!
Simon is a veterinarian, lives in Racagua and travels a 180km roundtrip everyday as he works in the capital, Santiago. As the darkness was permeating our thoughts, one always hopes that someone might ask about our plans to sleep and after the formalities of meeting a new character, Simon asks us where we are going to stay, which Gerrit replies “oh, probably a field, we have tents”. Simon immediately offers us a piece of land he owns which is nearby.
Before getting us to our promised land, Simon lets us stop off for supplies at a local Mercado. We then stop off at his house to meet his wife Chirstina and his son Matthew and the 10 dogs they own. A question which had been bugging me a while was the street dogs. Why were they so many. The answer put simple, is in Chile, about 80 percent of the dogs have owners, they just let them roam free, not bound by reins and locked doors, but free to cajole with the people of the streets.
I remember when trekking in the mountains in Peru, on the Sulkantay trek. At one lodging, after a nights sleep, a regretful decision to allow a young dog the privilege to share our porridge with a chicken, encouraged the dim pup to follow us and after two hours, I thought the dog was now ours, but coming in the direction we were heading was a pack of horses and in a flurry of mime, one of the riders picks up the dog by the scruff of the neck and drops it over the horse. Relief!
Within ten minutes from Simons house we were surrounded by farmland, gentle grazing hills to our left and the snowy peaks of the Andes in the horizon to our right. Simon swings out a fence post revealing what will one day be a gated entrance, for now just a cut in the fence.
Two adults from a house in the next field join us and after some initial introductions offer us a shower at their house in the morning. An opportunity me and Gerrit would seldom refuse. Everyone gets back to the warmth of their own homes, whilst us vagabonds pile wood in a ritualistic pattern that all good fires ignite well from. Pasta cooked, wrapped in the standard melted cheese. And as we sit with our own peaceful thoughts around a crackling fire, I certainly begun to think about potential holes in the neighbours fence because a rattle of howls, clearly indicated the dogs next door were anything but happy with our presence and they didn’t sound like little Jack Russel’s.
9.am, tent folded and bags packed, we approach the neighbours gate, “should we wait here for one of the owners?” two Alsatians start making paths towards us.
Gerrit being more optimistic opens the gate and begins walking to the main door. “they look friendly”. “Gerrit, it’s an Alsatian” and as Gerrit led undeterred, I followed closely behind, ready to poise my foot for a kick if it’s needed. Before we reach the door, a lady greets us and guides us to a small outhouse where she implores us to take a cold shower and to shut the gate when we leave.
After the both of us shower, sorry, splashed water onto our skin I immediately warmed myself up by the constant shifting in seating, as I tried to keep out of reach from an Alsatians mouth. At any moment he sensed I was paying no attention he would throw out his tongue and soak up the salty pours I had failed to cleanse under the immense cold splashing of water which we call a shower. Once we leave the house, I couldn’t have been more wrong with Gerrits observations of the friendly dogs. How shit they would be if we were anything but travellers taking a quick shower.
The truck stop that Simon had recommended, once arrived showed a complete lack of trucks. And fortunate for us or not, a dilapidated 4×4 with a middle-aged lady filling the front seat offers us a ride to Talca, her destination for the day.